Open water swimming in Helsinki

Summer’s pretty much ended here in Finland as the weather’s cooling down and nights are falling earlier after the summery white nights. It might not seem like a good time for summing up the beach scene hereabouts, but here I go anyway. Why? Because for an autumn-lover like me this is just about the best time of the year to hit the beaches.

This happens to be a subject I’ve got a huge experience to draw on after decades of open water swimming in every possible occasion. Rare is the day when I leave the house without my swimming trunks and a thin hammam towel so suitable for ex-tempore moments of bathing bliss. Actually it’s more than beaches I’m talking about, much more, as swimming in Helsinki is bound to happen not only from beaches but from rocks and whatnot. (Pools are totally excluded here, although there are fine ones in Helsinki well worth a post of their own, by someone else, as I myself am not much of a pool-type. Hate to feel that chemically purified water, or the thought of it…)

One of the plentiful good swimming spots in Suomenlinna. Photo. Eero Ehanti

Helsinki is a true waterfront city with plenty of designated beaches but also kilometers of open seaside ready for the more adventurous swimmer. Surely, this being the Northern hemisphere and the Baltic Sea, it’s not whitesand beaches by turquoise waters, but more like yellowish gravel on somewhat murky greenish water, which is not even real seawater but brackish water. Definitely no palmtrees. Instead we have lots of pines and spruces and other rich vegetation adorning the shores and providing the shelter for those in search of solitude.

Starting with the official beaches, the best known is the Hietaranta beach, or Hietsu, about which Anna already wrote about in this blog, a long stretch of yellow sand with good facilities, beach volley and occasional parties or other events. It tends to get quite crowded in hot summer days, but that’s what many a beach goes longs for; crowds and games, kind of societal bathing. As everywhere in Finland, the water’s bound to be on the cooler side even in high summer times, hindering effectively swimming urges of many people. Definitely not mine, though. I prefer colder waters because of the extreme refreshing effect one gets afterwards. Anyway Hietsu is a wonderful place for swimming, perhaps some Frisbee or beach volley and definitely a pique nique with friends. We go there from very early spring to very late autumn, and I advise to do the same, as the place very nicely changes within the seasons. Beautiful place indeed!

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Hietaranta beach. Photo: Eero Ehanti

Another old favorite of mine is the beach in Mustikkamaa, just next to the Helsinki zoo, where there’s an open beach area but also more serene small dots of sandy beach sheltered by trees and bushes. It’s a nice bicycle trip from the center, or a bus ride if that’s more to your liking. Take the bus 16 bound for the zoo and get off one stop before the terminus. Good running paths around there as well, and an adventurous climbing park, which together with the zoo very nearby makes this beach a very good option for families.

Another very family-friendly beach is to be found in the beautiful squirrel-filled Seurasaari island, which is known, very deservedly, for the open air-museum with old Finnish folk buildings gathered there from all over the country. The houses are well worth a visit, or several visits, as there’s truly a lot to see and do in that gem of a museum and one of the prides of the National Museum of Finland. The beach is a small one but nicely located in a sheltered place. The Sporty swimmer swims around the island, but if you do so, remember to have a colorful float with you to avoid the risk of getting run over by one of the many boats cruising thereabouts! And if you’re into nudism, there’s a fenced beach area for that with separate sections for men and women.

One of the more urban beaches is to be found in Eiranrata, near to Kaivopuisto. This is a newish setting, a quite nice one, but crowded as well in the sense that there’ll always be people walking by, because it happens to be along a very popular running and strolling route. If you’re looking for more private experience and happen to be thereabouts, you should take the very short boat trip Uunisaari island just a stonethrow away from Kaivopuisto park. (In wintertime there’s a bridge.) A place of natural beauty, it has a nice restaurant and saunas for rent as well as lots of lone sheltered places for those looking for privacy. Lots of birds, too, which is nice for the most part except for the breeding season, when the protective birds might turn your solitude to something more uncomfortable. Still within the Eira/Kaivopuisto area, another option is to take the slightly longer boat trip to Pihlajasaari island, another place of amazing natural beauty. Nudism area there as well. There’s a restaurant and camping possibility, too.

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Photo: Eero Ehanti

I could go on, easily, with these beaches. There’s a fine long one in the eastern suburb Vuosaari, they say, but I haven’t ventured there for a long time. And so on… But at this point, dear reader, I advise you to forget about these official beaches and just dip into the sea wherever suits you. There are places people go to, like Tervasaari or Suomenlinna, where possibilities abound, or best of them all, the so called Missippi rocks. This happens to be my absolute favorite spot in the city, where I go many times a week with my swimming gear and a nice Toscanello for the very rewarding smoke afterwards accompanied with some poetry or other highly complex literature for which I otherwise don’t find the needed concentration nor solitude. A friend’s a good option as well for these moments of somewhat Zenist character. The wherabouts of these rocks? I’m not going to tell you! You’ll find out if you look hard enough, or else you’ll find your own spot for utilizing fully the nature-wonders of our lovely Northern capital. There’s still time before the waters get really cold, so go for it!

Eero

Walking in Seurasaari island

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View from Seurasaari island to Meilahti

We’ve been having really nice and sunny autumn days in Helsinki for the past couple of weeks. I think the best way to enjoy the weather and warm(ish) days is to have long walks around Helsinki. One of my favorite routes is around Seurasaari island in Meilahti.

Easiest way to get there from Helsinki city center is probably by bike or bus. There’s a nice seaside biking route that goes from city center to Hietaniemi beach and along the coastline to Töölö and Meilahti all the way to Seurasaari island. No bikes are allowed in the island but you can leave it to the parking space. If you have the time, you can obviously always walk there – it’s around 5-6 kilometers from Helsinki Railwaystation, depending on the route. Last time I decided to take the bus. Bus number 24 from Eira via Helsinki city center goes straight to Seurasaari, but this time I used another bus and walked from Munkkiniemen aukio.

Seurasaari island brigge

Bridge to Seurasaari island

There’s a beautiful wooden bridge that leads to the island. At the left side(or the east side) of the island there’s Seurasaari Open-Air museum displaying traditional Finnish buildings, cottages and manors that have been relocated to the island from all around Finland. The first building was rebuilt there in 1909. The museum is open from May to September but you can always admire the buildings while walking through the island.

Seurasaari open-air museum

Relocated buildings at Seurasaari open-air museum

There’s also a nice view all the way to Lauttasaari and Hietalahti from the east side of the island. During the winter when the sea is frozen I’ve actually walked from Seurasaari to Hietalahti beach. One of my favorite places on the island, Kalevalakehto (or the Shamans Haven of the Kalevala) is also on the east coast of the island.  It’s intended for small gatherings and meditation and I visit it everytime I’m in Seurasaari. Kalevalakehto has been on the island for 5 years now and it has a temporary permit in Seurasaari until 31 August 2018.

Kalevalakehto in Seurasaari

Kalevalakehto in Seurasaari

There are cafés and kiosks in the area but I recommend taking your own picnic food with you or at least some coffee and sausages, since you can always use the outdoor grill area. Just remember to bring your own matches and put out the fire if there isn’t anyone using the grill after you. There are excellent paths  as well as park benches around the island so you can stop and admire the view or enjoy your coffee by the sea if the outdoor grill area is too crowded.

Paths and steps around Seurasaari island

Paths and steps around Seurasaari island

The island is popular among tourists but also among locals and I keep finding new things to see everytime I go there. Once I’ve even spotted our president Sauli Niinistö walking his dog there one winter Sunday.

Marjo

seurasaari island map

Seurasaari island’s map and facilities